Lesson Plan

Drafting the Basic Elements of a Short Story


Students will use their understanding of story elements—characterization, plot, conflict, setting, and point of view—to complete a graphic organizer for a first draft of their own short story. Students will:

  • identify and use intensive pronouns.
  • understand and implement story structure (exposition, rising action, climax, resolution) and other literary elements in their own short story.
  • identify methods of characterization and apply those methods to develop their own characters.
  • use understanding of setting to develop their own settings.
  • apply the principle of showing not telling in their own writing.
  • discriminate among points of view and determine the best one to employ in their own story.
  • complete a graphic organizer with elements for a first draft of their own short story.
  • discuss their story ideas with classmates and implement feedback.
  • listen to and respond to the ideas of other students.

Essential Questions

How do grammar and the conventions of language influence spoken and written communication?
How do readers know what to believe in what they read, hear and view?
How do readers know what to believe in what they read, hear, and view?
How do readers know what to believe?
How do strategic readers create meaning from informational and literary text?
How does a reader’s purpose influence how text should be read?
How does interaction with text provoke thinking and response?
How does what readers read influence how they should read it?
What is the purpose?
What is this text really about?
What makes clear and effective writing?
Why do writers write?
  • Why do writers write? What is the purpose?
  • What makes clear and effective writing?
  • Who is the audience? What will work best for the audience?
  • How do grammar and the conventions of language influence spoken and written communication?


  • Characterization: The method an author uses to reveal characters and their various personalities.
  • Climax: The turning point in a narrative; the moment when the conflict is at its most intense. Typically, the structure of stories, novels, and plays is one of rising action, in which tension builds to the climax.
  • Conflict/Problem: A struggle or clash between opposing characters, forces, or emotions.
  • Exposition: Writing that explains something, often in the beginning of a story.
  • Falling Action: All of the action in a story that follows the turning point or climax. The falling action leads to the resolution or conclusion of the story.
  • Imagery: Language that appeals to any sense or any combination of the senses.
  • Intensive/Reflexive Pronoun: A pronoun that refers back to the subject of the sentence; it emphasizes a noun or pronoun in the sentence.
  • Literary Devices: Tools used by the author to enliven and provide voice to the writing (e.g., dialogue, alliteration).
  • Literary Elements: The essential techniques used in literature (e.g., characterization, setting, plot, theme).
  • Plot: The structure of a story. The sequence in which the author arranges events in a story. The structure often includes the exposition, the rising action, the climax, the falling action, and the resolution. The plot may have a protagonist who is opposed by an antagonist, creating what is called conflict.
  • Resolution: The portion of a story following the climax, in which the conflict is resolved. The resolution of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey is neatly summed up in the following sentence: “Henry and Catherine were married, the bells rang and everybody smiled.”
  • Rising Action: The part of a story where the plot becomes increasingly complicated. Rising action leads up to the climax, or turning point.
  • Setting: The time and place in which a story unfolds.


150–200 minutes/3–4 class periods

Prerequisite Skills

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Formative Assessment

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    • Completing the graphic organizer will reveal students who do not understand the importance of literary elements and their effects so that they may be helped early in the writing process.
    • Receiving personal feedback will help students identify any weaknesses in their story line before they begin writing and will show whether their own expectations have been met.

Suggested Instructional Supports

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    Scaffolding, Active Engagement, Modeling, Explicit Instruction
    W: Students will work on point of view, characterization, setting, and plot in their stories, practicing the principle of “show, don’t tell” in their writing. 
    H: Students visualize their stories and use the 5 Ws to begin developing their idea. 
    E: Students will learn about the importance of point of view and complete a graphic organizer of story elements individually, then evaluate the completed organizers in groups. 
    R: Completing the 5 Ws for their story gives students an overview of their story. Completing the graphic organizer allows them to develop story elements in depth. Group evaluation of the graphic organizer will show students any gaps in their development or understanding of literary elements before writing their draft. 
    E: Students have the opportunity to discuss and compare their graphic organizers with those of their classmates and determine which ideas would work best in their story draft. 
    T: Students see new activities modeled before working on them in groups, and work individually and then in groups for feedback. The instructor and peer group members can support students who are having difficulty. 
    O: Before students compose the first draft of their own story, they have developed the basic story elements and received specific feedback on their ideas. 

Instructional Procedures

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    Focus Question: How do you develop the basic elements of a short story?

    Language Skills Mini-Lesson

    “Soon you will create drafts of the elements of your short story, but first we are going to return to some sentences from The House on Mango Street to help us discuss pronouns. Recently, we practiced using pronouns in the proper case: subjective, objective, and possessive pronouns. Now we are going to examine intensive pronouns. Intensive pronouns refer back to the subject of the sentence; they emphasize a noun or pronoun in the sentence. They end with ‘-self’ or ‘-selves.’ Listen to the following sentences from The House on Mango Street and write down the intensive pronoun in each sentence:

    “‘I would like to baptize myself under a new name, a name more like the real me, the one nobody sees.’” (My Name)

    “‘Marin, under the streetlight, dancing by herself, is singing the same song somewhere.’” (Marin)

    “‘They are without respect for all things living, including themselves.’” (There Was an Old Woman…)

    “‘She takes her dog Bobo for a walk and laughs all by herself, that Ruthie.’” (Edna’s Ruthie)

    “‘Bit by bit, after the monkey left, the garden began to take over itself.’” (The Monkey Garden)

    “‘Things had a way of disappearing in the garden, as if the garden itself ate them, or, as if with its old man memory, it put them away and forgot them.’” (The Monkey Garden)

    Go through the answers together. (1. myself, 2. herself, 3. themselves, 4. herself, 5. itself, 6. itself) Write a few of these sentences on the board, underline the intensive pronoun, and explain how each one is an example of the intensive pronoun referring back to the subject of the sentence, or how the intensive pronoun emphasizes a noun or pronoun in the sentence.

    List all intensive pronouns on the board:

    myself, himself, herself, itself, yourself/yourselves, themselves, ourselves

    “Write a sentence that uses an intensive pronoun from the list on the board. Below it, write an explanation; what makes the pronoun you chose an intensive pronoun? Be thoughtful. What subject does the pronoun refer back to, or what noun or pronoun does it emphasize?

    “Share your sentence with a partner. Listen carefully! Have your partner explain why the pronoun in your sentence is intensive. What subject does the pronoun refer back to, or what noun or pronoun does it emphasize?

    “Was your partner correct? If not, help your partner understand why. If you are unsure, raise your hand and I will help.”

    Allow students to find another partner and repeat the exercise.

    Then ask for students’ sample sentences, copy a few onto the board, have students identify the intensive pronoun, and explain what subject the pronoun refers back to, or what noun or pronoun it emphasizes. You may do this as oral or written practice.

    “Now that you can identify and explain intensive pronouns, try to notice them in your own writing as you draft your short story. Remember, they are used to emphasize a noun or pronoun. If you happen to include an intensive pronoun, let me know and we will share it with the class.”

    Part 1

    Have students write their story idea at the top of a clean piece of notebook paper, and tell them that they will do some prewriting for their story by using the 5 Ws. Ask them to write the 5 Ws vertically down the page, leaving plenty of lines between each W. (Refer them back to the chart paper used at the beginning of Lesson 1, if necessary.) Model this for them with your story idea. “For now, think of your story as if it is a movie. What is happening and who is involved? Where and when does the story take place? Why are things happening? Write a sentence or two for each W.”

    Once students have completed the 5 Ws, say, “Before writers make too many decisions about a story, they must decide on the point of view. This is the viewpoint from which an author reveals characters, events, and ideas when telling a story.” Describe the choices for point of view:

    • First person: One of the characters tells the story using the pronoun “I.”

    Example: I thought the team seemed ready, but I was still shaking in my skates, nervous for the hockey game to begin.

    • Third person limited: A narrator who is not part of the story tells the story, using the pronouns “he” or “she,” limiting what the readers know to what one character knows.

    Example: He thought the team seemed ready, but he was still shaking in his skates, nervous for the hockey game to begin.

    • Third person omniscient: A narrator who is not a part of the story tells the story using the pronouns “he” or “she,” letting readers know the thoughts and actions of all the characters.

    Example: Even though the team was confident and ready, he was still shaking in his skates, nervous for the hockey game to begin.

    Ask students to identify the point of view used in “Four Skinny Trees” (or other story used in Lesson 1) and ask for evidence of how they know. Students should identify the point of view as first person and offer examples of the narrator’s use of “I” and “me” throughout the story. Ask them to think about how the story would be different if the author had chosen a different point of view. Ask, “Would we know the same things about the narrator? Would the trees be important characters?” Help students see that a change in point of view affects every part of a story. With this story in mind, the emotional reaction we get as readers is greater because of the first person point of view. Being able to see and understand the connection the narrator has with the trees is much more personal. It is her observation of the trees that allows them to become characters through personification.

    Model your story from different points of view.

    Have students write the beginning or a short scene from their story idea using first person point of view. Then ask them to write the same scene from third person limited or third person omniscient point of view. “You have control over your story. You decide what readers will learn or discover about characters and events by choosing a particular point of view.” Give students time to decide which point of view they wish to use. Ask questions to help them consider things like:

    • “Do you want to tell your story ‘from above,’ looking down on the characters, or do you want to share their thoughts and feelings from their own minds?”
    • “Think about your characters. Is it more important to the story that their thoughts are known, or is the story better told from an outside view?”
    • “How do other elements in the story like setting, plot, rising action, etc., change depending on the point of view you choose?”

    Give each student a blank copy of the Narrative Writing Graphic Organizer (LW-6-2-1_Narrative Writing Graphic Organizer- Blank.doc). Tell students that they will be working independently to complete the graphic organizer for their own story; later they will be working in pairs to give and receive feedback about their story development based on the organizer.

    Explain how to complete the organizer. Tell them to begin with the first column and briefly identify each element of the story: the character or characters, the setting, the main problem or conflict, plot structure, and what message or theme they wish to convey. Instruct them to complete the figurative language cell last, after they know what all the other elements are. Tell them to jot down any types of figurative language they think might improve the story. Model these activities for students.

    Next, point to the evidence column and say, “Now you are becoming real writers. You need to think of what kind of characters you wish to develop. Are they kind? Confused? Bold? You need to think of how you will show your readers what kind of characters they are. You can show character through dialogue, actions, and what the narrator reveals, such as in ‘Four Skinny Trees.’ What evidence will you include?” Explain that they will complete this column for each story element. Model by giving examples as needed.

    Finally, point to the effect column and explain that they should write what they want the effect of the evidence to be. Say, “What kind of response do you want your readers to have? Do you want them to be sympathetic? Surprised?” Refer students back to the organizer they completed for “Four Skinny Trees” (or other short story). Help them recall the significance of the author’s choice of words and other techniques and their effects. Explain that as they complete the organizer, they are practicing author’s craft.

    Monitor students as they complete the organizers, making sure that they understand the task.

    Part 2

    Give students time to review their completed organizers. Then place students in pairs. Explain that they will evaluate each other’s story organizer. Give students a list of questions such as the ones below to assist them in their evaluations. Tailor this list of questions to address the writing strengths and weaknesses of students in your class and post them for class reference.

    • Will the characters be distinct? Is there enough evidence to help readers see and understand them?
    • Will the setting be apparent? Is the evidence for setting relevant and sufficient to get a clear picture?
    • Will the conflict or problem be clear to the reader?
    • Will the choice of figurative language be appropriate for the story? How will it help the story?
    • Will the plot be complete? Do all parts of the plot work together to make the story complete? Is there an obvious beginning (exposition), middle (rising action), and end (climax and resolution)?
    • Will the theme be clearly stated? Does it relate to the characters, plot, and conflict?

    Explain that the evaluation is important because it will help students write better and more complete rough drafts of their short stories. Say, “Most professional writers are members of writers’ groups. They give and receive feedback just as you are going to do. They know that this feedback will help them write a better story.” Tell students to take thorough notes as they listen to feedback so that they know what, if any, changes they need to make before they write the rough draft. Encourage students to be open to their partner’s suggestions and to look at the feedback as an opportunity to improve. At the end of the class period, collect the completed graphic organizers and notes to review before the next class period.


    • If students find point of view challenging, have them work with a familiar story such as a fable or fairy tale, retelling the tale from a different point of view.
    • If students have difficulty developing their story elements, have them draw pictures of characters, setting, or events. Then have students return to the pictures and “translate” them into words.
    • Students who need more understanding of the effects of literary elements could examine “The Three Little Pigs” (or other familiar story) and discuss how the story would be different if personification or repetition of dialogue were not used.
    • For students who have difficulty providing feedback, have them revisit one of their own previous writings and evaluate it as if they were in a writing group, identifying ways in which they could improve their work.

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Final 05/17/2013
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